Breaking a mirror is often associated with one of the worst event that could happen to a superstitious person. But why? When did this belief start? Why exactly 7 years of bad luck?
The first Mirrors
The origin of this superstition is a combination a few beliefs that started way before mirrors were even a thing. In fact, the first mirrors were made of polished metals like brass, silver bronze, and even gold. The first cultures to use such a curios artifact were the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Hebrews. This stuff was hard to break even if it fell!
Oracles, Divination and Mirrors
During the same time the Greek started another tradition called divination. They would get a bowl made out of glass and fill it with water. These mystical sphere was then placed in front of the person looking for answers. The reflection of the person was then used to foresee the future. This practice was later called miratorium by the Romans. But there was a catch that is connected to our breaking mirrors and bad luck. If a person who went to the oracle to have her or his future foretold made the “mirror seer” fall, the interpretation was that the future events were going to be horrible. Basically, the gods wanted to spare that person from seeing their future as it was too dreadful to behold.
Romans and the Health Cycle
When the Romans adopted this superstition they combined it with their own twist. The Romans believed that the cycle of a person’s health changed every seven years. Thus if the seer-glass called miratorium fell and broke, it would take a cycle of seven years to reset and reboot one’s health. Basically, the dreadful future that the gods didn’t want you to see was over and you were starting anew.
The middle ages and expensive mirrors
In the 15th century in Italy, the first real mirrors were produced with a silver backing. These were highly expensive and very fragile objects that had to be handles with extreme care. The poor servants that had to clean them were often warned that if they broke them they would go through 7 year of bad luck. The owners of these mirrors wanted to make sure the servants would handled these precious object with care. In some cases an even more religious meaning was attached to breaking a mirror. Since ancient times seeing once reflection even in water was a mystic experience.
The Spreading of the Superstition
In the 17th century mirrors started being cheaper and more of a commodity. The seven years of bad luck superstition used to warn clumsy servants started to be widespread and now rooted into everyone. Even for the wealthiest of aristocrats breaking a mirror became a bad omen.
A door to the other world
Breaking a mirror that was reflecting your image was also often associated as a symbol that part of your soul was getting destroyed as well. Even nowadays during periods of mourning, Jews cover their mirrors as it is seen as a door to the other world. Through this mystical reflecting surface, a mourning family might be able to glimpse at spirits while they are in a vulnerable state and let them prevail over you. They are also covered to avoid focusing on oneself while you are mourning a dear loss.
If you want to learn more:
Breaking a mirror – Meaning of broken mirror (mirrorhistory.com)
Breaking a Mirror (snopes.com)
Mirror – Wikipedia
Good Luck Superstitions | Dartmouth Folklore Archive